UCLA Spotlight


JSEI Affiliates, Volunteers with Vision

  • By Patti Thayer, Kimberly Eremic, J. Martin
  • Published Apr 1, 2003 8:00 AM

Two-year-old Gannon Hubbell needed the eye operation known as ptosis surgery, designed to expand his visual field. Surgeon Sherwin Isenberg knows that his small patients can be anxious about the experience. So he presented Gannon with his own Dr. Teddy, M.D., bear. “Dr. Teddy becomes a new ‘friend’ who accompanies a child on his or her surgical adventure,” Isenberg explains. The bear provides tangible comfort and helps lessen anxiety.

Isenberg is the Grace and Walter Lantz Professor of Pediatric Ophthalmology at the Jules Stein Eye Institute (JSEI). His pediatric patients are among the hundreds who receive donated Dr. Teddy, M.D., bears through the “Make Surgery Bearable” program of the JSEI Affiliates.

Dr. Teddy bears may be sponsored year-round for a minimum gift of $10. “They are especially popular as Mother’s Day gifts and each Dr. Teddy can ‘bear’ the name of a loved one,” says Marti Oppenheimer, president of the JSEI Affiliates. “I think moms especially like the gift of a Dr. Teddy sponsorship because it tells them, ‘Mom, you taught me how to show kindness to others.’ ”

The JSEI Affiliates do a lot more than “Make Surgery Bearable.” “We always keep in mind a saying of Dr. Jules Stein’s,” Oppenheimer says. “When he talked about the precious gift of vision, he’d say, ‘It is wonderful to see!’ That’s true for everyone, but especially for children.”

Because 80 percent of learning depends on vision, undetected vision disorders can lead to serious developmental problems. The JSEI Affiliates was established in 1990 under the umbrella of the Jules and Doris Stein UCLA Support Group. The Affiliates actively promote better vision for children through two free programs: Preschool Vision Screening and VISION In-School.

Preschool Vision Screening is designed to alert parents to potential vision problems, and to avoid long-term or permanent vision loss. Affiliate volunteers work under the supervision of Pamela Berg, JSEI orthoptist, to screen 3- to 5-year-old children. “Literally millions of people have reduced or poor vision in one eye as a result of undetected strabismus (misalignment of the eye) or abnormal refractive error (near- or farsightedness, or astigmatism) in early childhood, when normal vision is developing,” explains pediatric ophthalmologist Leonard Apt, director of the program. Of 300 children recently screened by the program, nearly 8 percent were recommended for follow-up exams.

VISION In-School volunteers visit 4th- to 6th-grade students providing information about eye anatomy, eye disorders, eye safety and injury prevention. “Eye injury is the leading cause of blindness in children in the United States,” explains Patti Thayer, director of community outreach. “If our program can educate and protect children from blinding injuries, then we have gained the ultimate reward.” VISION In-School has visited more than 9,000 children. The JSEI Affiliates is the only volunteer group to implement this curriculum into a community program.

The JSEI Affiliates also joins with Camp Planet Hope to provide vision screenings and literature for children and families from shelters.